Elizabeth Avery Schultz (1936 - )
Schultz, of Lawrence, combines enthusiasm for art and nature in her
writings. As a literature professor at the University of Kansas, she
encouraged thousands of students to examine stories closely and then to
link observation with reflection. She brings that sense of joyful
scrutiny to her creative writings, which include essays and poetry.
Often she lings these to nature. Since retirement in 2001, she has
continued to be active as a Fulbright scholar, poet, and ecocritic
activist. She is a member of the Committee on Imagination & Place and
consultant to its press; she also writes for the Nature Conservancy and
Schultz delights in
patterns, whether crafted by natural processes or artisans. She engages
deeply with both, as seen in this poem. A great blue heron’s carcass has
an unexpectedly beautiful form. The poet compares it to a macramé dream
catcher; crochet-work; an amulet; and also its vertebrae are frets of a
guitar. As insects scour its bones, the this erasure creates yet another
pattern. And so the poet humanizes an emblem of mortality—the skeleton.
The most descriptive words and phrases of the poem are set like gems
along strands of short lines, so that “dark amulet,” “polished blade,”
and “shining insects,” along with other terms, resound fully.
The poem shows
paradox in uncovering aesthetic joy in river refuse. The title is also
paradoxical: how does this mostly decayed beast, lodged on a sandbar,
tell about the Kansas River? Forces of the river that sustained the
living bird cause the final dissolution.
Watching the Kansas
On a sandbar
a heron is laid
out with care.
A dream catcher,
its design is
pressed into sand.
Its wings stretch
in skeletal symmetry.
its light bones.
Its feet curl into
and its beak is
a polished blade.
the shining insects
devour the design,
releasing the bird
into a river of light.
Elizabeth Schultz received a BA in European History (Wellesley 1958), and MA
(1962) and PhD (1967) in English from the University of Michigan. She taught
English at the University of Kansas 1967-2001. She has published extensively
in the fields of African American fiction and autobiography,
nineteenth-century American fiction, American women's writing, and Japanese
culture. She was a Distinguished Fulbright Lecturer at the Beijing Foreign
Studies Institute (2008) and co-organized an international conference in
Schultz is the author of Unpainted to the Last: Moby-Dick and Twentieth
Century American Art (University Press of Kansas 1995); a memoir,
Shoreline: Seasons at the Lake (Michigan St. U. Press 2001);
Conversations: Art Into Poetry at the Spencer Museum of Art (2006);
poems, Her Voice (Woodley Press 2008); The White-Skin Deer: Hoopa
Stories (Mammoth 2009), fiction; and essays in The Nature of Kansas
Lands (University Press of Kansas 2009).
©2009 Denise Low
AAPP 41 ©2009 Elizabeth Schultz “Watching the Kansas River”